The Chertsey Town War Memorial was unveiled 100 years ago on 30 October 1921. All are welcome to attend a short ceremony to mark this centenary at the memorial outside St Peter’s Church in Windsor Street on Saturday 30 October at 3pm. The event will include aspects of the original unveiling ceremony and the placing of a new commemorative bench.
In the lead-up to the centenary, Chertsey Museum has been working on a public history project in partnership with Royal Holloway, University of London. The project uncovered some surprising stories about those who lost their lives because of the Great War, their bereaved families, and those who returned from the fighting, and about the memorial itself.
Memorials and statues attract controversy today and this was no different a century ago. More than two years of wrangling involved competing ideas including a cottage hospital or a war museum with captured machine guns outside, a rowdy public meeting, and the resignation of an entire organising committee. The compromise solution was a bronze cast of an ‘Unknown British Soldier’ which turned out to be the same design as that used in Worthing, Stafford, Truro, and Ebbw Vale.
When the Chertsey Town War memorial was finally unveiled, it displayed 129 names which represented one in 20 of Chertsey’s pre-war population. Therefore, few in the town would have been untouched by the conflict. The memorial bears the inscription ‘To the honoured memory of the men of Chertsey who fell in the Great War’ but includes the name of one woman, Maud Richardson. Both Maud and her sister Lilian joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, and Maud died whilst still serving.
Before 1914, Ernest Dyos of White Hart Yard worked at Morton’s boot shop in Guildford Street. He was replaced at Morton’s by a teenager called Herbert Wells from Abbey Road. In a remarkable coincidence, they were both reported as missing in the same edition of the Surrey Herald. It was confirmed later that Ernest Dyos was killed in action and Herbert Wells was wounded, taken prisoner, and survived the war after spending two years interned in an alpine resort in Switzerland.
Eleanor Hunt of Grove Road lost two of her four sons within a period of five days in the early months of the war. Herbert and Richard Hunt were hailed as heroes after they were mentioned in dispatches for ‘conspicuous conduct.’ Herbert also received the Médaille Militaire, a major French military award for bravery. At a time of extreme grief, Eleanor was thrust into the public spotlight, receiving a visit from the local MP, and appearing in several photo stories in the newspapers.
Ernest Joyner from Laburnum Road was another local soldier recognised for gallantry after being awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for bombing a pillbox. Shortly afterwards, following a period of home leave at Christmas 1917, he wrote a letter to the Surrey Herald in which he railed against the many men he had seen around town not wearing uniform. To Ernest Joyner, these men were shirking their responsibilities. In the latter stages of the conflict, with conscription imposed and the realities of the war evident to all, local military tribunals received hundreds of requests for exemptions.
One name not on the Chertsey memorial is Frank Parton. He and Edward Lees were men from similar backgrounds who chose different paths. Born less than two years apart, their family homes were in Bridge Road and their fathers ran local foundries. The Great War would claim both of their lives, but they would be remembered in different ways. Edward Lees was a soldier and lost his life serving in the Middle East. Frank Parton was a conscientious objector who spent time in prison because of his beliefs and eventually took his own life.
All these stories and more can be found on this blogsite. Gaps still need to be filled so please contact us with any information or images relating to the men and women mentioned in the blogs.
The new commemorative bench was funded by Councillor Mark Nuti’s Members’ Community Allocation.